We all love a good story, right? I bet if I were to ask you about your favorite movie, you might consider the quality of the acting (or maybe the actors themselves. After all, who doesn’t love a good Sandra Bullock flick?), you could think about the rating, the level of action, or how much it makes you laugh. But ultimately, my guess is that one feature will trump the others. And that is the story. Because after all is said and done, the acting, action, and laugh factor amount to nothing if they aren’t accompanied by a solid story. Yes, you may like a story-less film for a little while, you might even go to the midnight showing and Redbox it a few times. But in the end, the movies that stay high on your list for years to come, the ones that are worth paying the $19.96 to buy at Wal-Mart, the ones that you will watch over and over and over again and never get tired of—those movies are the ones with the best stories.
Although stories come in all shapes and sizes, the best stories have some common characteristics. First is conflict; without a conflict, there is no real story. The story must contain a problem that needs to be solved. This could be an enduring racism like in Remember the Titans or it might consist of Buddy the Elf searching for his father. Whatever form the conflict takes, it is absolutely essential to the structure of the story.
Next, the story must have a protagonist. Also known as the “hero,” this individual must not only be likeable, but also worthy of being liked. He or she should be a sympathetic character with whom the audience can identify at some level. More often than not, this person is simply an average human being of whom above average things are expected or demanded.
For every protagonist, there must be an antagonist. This is the opposite of the protagonist, the pepper to his or her salt. While the protagonist is good and praiseworthy, the antagonist is evil and despicable. The antagonist does everything within his power not only to thwart the protagonist’s plans, but also to destroy the hero himself.
This brings us to the fourth essential element to all great stories: A battle between good and evil. For anyone who’s taken an English class, you know this as the “climax.” Good and evil must fight against one another and, for the end to be “happy,” the good side must succeed. Even when plots become more complicated and the good and evil sides may not be so clear cut, we in the audience still have an inherent sense of how the story should go. And while not all stories have so-called happy endings, the stories we treasure the most do. Our favorite stories, those classic tales, all have resolutions in which good wins out in the end.
Moreover, the very best stories usually have a roundabout way of getting to that happy ending. We term this a “twist.” Something unexpected happens; it makes little to no sense at the time. But in the end, when we see the big picture, we understand the poetic beauty and plotline necessity of the twist, and we are grateful for it.
Now, I know you didn’t visit my blog (or accidentally stumble upon it) hoping to get a Cliff-notes English lesson, but bear with me a little longer. If all the great stories share the same basic characteristics—of conflict, protagonist, antagonist, and good v. evil—couldn’t you theoretically make the case that, while there are infinite stories in the world, they are all actually part of the same basic story? Yes, the names, locations, and specific plotlines do vary, but the essential gist of it, the bare bones, the heart of all stories are identical.
That’s no coincidence, my friends. Now let me tell you why.
You see, God is the ultimate Storyteller. Before He spoke anything else into existence, God was. And as an omniscient, all-knowing Being, He knew everything that would ever happen. So when He set the world into motion, when He breathed life into Adam and Eve, He was already weaving together the most incredible story imaginable—the story that would become the blueprint for all other stories. Here is that story.
God created Adam and Eve and gave them paradise. They had everything they could ever possibly want or need, and they had an unhindered relationship with God, their Creator, and with each other. Everything was perfect, as it was intended to be.
But then along came God’s enemy. Completely evil and full of hate, this enemy sought to sabotage God’s perfect plan. He deceived Adam and Eve and convinced them to reject God. They were kicked out of paradise. But God still loved His people and wasn’t finished with them yet. He had a plan to make everything right again: A King would come to save them.
After leaving paradise, humanity suffered and all of creation with it. Natural disasters, disease, pain, suffering and death became facts of life—facts that God never wanted to have happen. But because humans chose their way over God’s, He had to let them suffer for a time. Thousands of years passed, and things became worse and worse. It seemed as if God had forgotten His promise and His people.
And then, all of sudden, God directs the ultimate plot twist: He sends them a baby. An illegitimate baby born to unwed peasants from a poverty-stricken town barely on the map, while these parents were refugees a hundred miles from home. And because no one would take them in, this baby was born in an animal’s stall and placed in a feeding trough. As if that weren’t enough, shepherds (the lowest of the low) were the first to see him.
Oh, and one more minor detail: This baby is God Himself.
Crazy. But wait, there’s more.
This baby grows up, lives a perfect life, and willingly dies a criminal’s death on a cross. However, He didn’t stay dead. No, He rose from the grave and will come back one day to rule forever.
Now here comes the nuttiest part of all: To those who trust in Him as their Savior, He purifies them and makes them white as snow. His death takes our place, and we get to live with Him forever in a restored paradise.
That, my friends, is the greatest story of all, and it’s the only story that really matters. And the best part is that God created and planned this story, so that you could be a part of it and—most importantly—so that you could have a relationship with Him. So the choice is yours: Do you want to write your own story, hoping for a happy ending? Or will you trust in the greatest Storyteller to write you into His, which guarantees happiness without end?
Merry Christmas and God bless.